Bulletpattern Game design, Flash and Unity development

11Jun/200

Animal Crossing Birthday Scavenger Hunt

For the past few years, I've been designing scavenger hunt parties for my daughter's birthday party. This was originally born out of her love for Gravity Falls and all the secret codes throughout that show. So far I've made parties for Gravity Falls, Warriors (the cat books, not the colorful gangs), and Yo-kai Watch. This year it was time for everyone's favorite pandemic obsession – Animal Crossing!

Due to the pandemic, we could not have an actual birthday party with her friends, so I decided to go the extra mile and make this party special (maybe too special, more on that in the summary). Also, my girlfriend's daughter is 6 years younger than my daughter but I wanted to make sure she was included.

THE SET UP

There's a whole new game – it's Animal Crossing: Birthday Island. My daughter was greeted with this card.

THE PLANNING

Wait, before I get ahead of myself, let me talk about the massive amount of planning that went into this. I knew a few things I want to accomplish:

  • Use the tools from Animal Crossing in real life (IRL).
  • Have IRL parts of the scavenger hunt and parts *in* the Animal Crossing game.
  • Harder puzzles for the 12yo and easier puzzles for the 6yo so they could work together.

I sketched and planned over and over (using Paper by 53 in my iPad)

After a couple weeks of planning off and on, I settled on this flow and started filling in the gaps with puzzles and activities.

back to THE GAME

I designed and printed mats to emulate Resident Services and The Museum. Amiibos of Tom Nook and Blathers were manning their respective areas and guarding the horde of Bells. These Amiibos were the first small presents of the day.

THE RULES

  • Each coin is worth 100 Bells
  • Finding a bug/fish/fossil grants you the coin(s) from the space
  • Hints are 500 Bells
  • Filling entire museum section grants 10k Bells (the bags of Bells)
  • You must follow the tool rules! No catching bugs without a net, no fossils without a shovel, etc.
  • The birthday presents cost 40k Bells!
  • Getting the last 10k Bells is a secret and must be discovered!

The back yard was decorated with tents, mailboxes, campfires, and even real floating balloons with presents hanging from them! In addition to hosting, my wonderful girlfriend did an excellent job with the decor both in and out of the house!

FISHING

The girls were given the first DIY Card for free – fishing rods. They had to solve puzzles and catch critters to find the rest of the DIY cards. They were also given some bamboo, string, and hooks made from wire coat hangers to assemble their fishing poles.

I put little toy fish, some bad puns, and pieces of a 6-part puzzle in little paper bags. They had to get all the cards and stack them to reveal the code. Half the bags had big hook-able rings, the other half had paperclips only (for the future fishing rod upgrade). Six fish means 600 Bells and the fish area of the museum half-way filled up!

I used Discovery Kids Puzzle Maker to create a word search for the younger girl that revealed a clue "STACK THE CARDS". After stacking the cards correctly, the puzzle solution revealed to be "FLOWERS FRONT HOUSE" written in the Animal Crossing font, which meant the next clue was in the game!

I made this set up as a clue to where the next DIY card was hidden in the real world. You see that DIY card hiding behind the far-left flower?

Behind the IRL house are some big, decorative metal flowers with the same color arrangement. The next DIY Card was taped behind the corresponding flower. The next tool was the shovel!

FOSSILS

I ordered this dinosaur skeleton set on Amazon. I divided the skeletons up into 9 groups, along with a puzzle piece. I painted back of some deep paper plates to look like the little "dig spot" from Animal Crossing and taped printouts over the mouth of the plates to hold everything in, so the girls had to rip them open to get to the goodies.

She had to assemble the dinosaur models to get the full 10k Bell credit from the museum. I have to admit, my mixing the dinosaur bones up made this overly difficult but she completed the fossils for her first bag-o-bells!

Along with each fossil was a piece of a roughly drawn treasure map. Once she put it together, it was clearly her Animal Crossing Island! She had it comically upside-down at first before she recognized it!

Buried in the Animal Crossing game, at each marked spot, was an item. I told her to carefully track which grid (A1 - F7) she found each item and its exact name. The names and locations of the items, paired with the maze below (for the younger girl), revealed the next clue. The correct path of the maze outlined the right sequence of grid and letter.

  1. B1-7 (sand doLlar)
  2. B7-4 (corAl)
  3. F7-4 (wooD)
  4. D2-4 (claY)
  5. C2-6 (tree Branch)
  6. F4-4 (venUs comb)
  7. C5-1 (Gold Plaque)

Ladybug? Let's go look outside for the next DIY card!

BUGS

The net DIY Card was hidden under a decorative ladybug in the back yard. Nine little toy bugs were hidden (too well) in the back yard. Another 10,000 Bells for completing a museum section! Each bug had a few letters painted on the bottom. Arranging all the bugs in alphabetical order revealed the next in-game code – COUNT THE BUGS BY GRID

Oh yeah, there was also a hint tarantula, if you didn't have the Bells for a hint.

With the Animal Crossing design tool, I made a few bug stamps (1 bug, 3 bugs, 5 bugs) and stamped the ground with a number of bugs. The count of the bugs on the grid corresponded to another puzzle grid.

The count of the bugs by the grid revealed the code revealed UNDER TRAMPOLINE, which is where the Fishing+ DIY card was held!

FISHING+

This time for fishing they had little magnet lures, so they could catch the rest of the fish! Another 6-part code (cut vertically, little dots at the bottom show the order it must be re-assembled) with another hint! This time a grid puzzle but the connect-the-dots puzzle reveals the path in which she had to follow to grid to get the answer (it's just a swirl).

This revealed the code LOOKxRESIDENTxSERVICESxBULLETINBOARD.

On the Resident Services Bulletin Board in Animal Crossing, I put a zigzag (a.k.a. rail fence) puzzle. There was A LOT of confusion and frustration with this puzzle. I think there was also some "code fatigue" (more on that later in my summary), so I just gave the answer – UNDER STEPS ZIPLINE.

THE SLINGSHOT

This was (supposed to be) the ultimate fun end to the adventure! Shooting down real floating balloons and presents with a real slingshot! But the balloons had been sitting in the hot sun for about 3 hours and had deflated considerably, making them *very* difficult to pop. This led to a lot of frustration. It was a huge bummer. There were some tears.

We skipped this puzzle but here is. There was a 6-part Atbash puzzle in the boxes the balloons held. They were cut up horizontally and had to be put back together in alphabetical order of the Animal Crossing characters' names.

This said START SOUTH BEACH THEN FOLLOW GNOMES, but I just told her the solution.

I had 3 gnomes pointing in a path around her island in Animal Crossing that eventually led to her mailbox, where there was a simple "skip every couple letters" to reveal the secret to getting the final 10,000 Bells – GIVE DADDY HUGS. Yes, very self-serving. I DESERVE IT!

EVERYONE WENT ALL OUT!

It wasn't just me going nuts. Everyone involved in the party took it took to the extreme!

We had awesome decorations, and my daughter's mom made a crazy spread of food. My girlfriend's sister is a straight cake boss and made this amazing cake! The cake was mean to look like Punchy but colored like my daughter's cat.

My ex's boyfriend even dressed up like K.K. Slider and set up a DJ Booth (but it was really hot outside).

SUMMARY

All in all, a good time was had by the girls but I made some big mistakes.

Mistake #1 – I'm used to have 6-10 kids working on these puzzles. Their combined efforts tear through these puzzles quickly. Having all the puzzle solving on one kid by themselves was way harder and not as much fun. This meant the puzzle sections were taking a really long time and became a chore. Also, this just made the game take too long.

Mistake #2 – The balloons. Well before the party, I tested shooting the balloons with a slingshot and it worked like a dream. I could pop the balloons with no effort. However, I'm an older guy and had slingshots a good part of my childhood.

Now compare that to a kid who has never shot a slingshot and is shooting at deflated balloons. It was a recipe for frustration.

Hopefully next year we won't be under quarantine and my daughter can have a group of friends take part in the puzzles. I already have my eye on a 3D printer to make physical puzzles for next year!

28May/200

Yo-kai Watch Scavenger Hunt Party

For the past few years, I have designed and created an elaborate scavenger hunt for my daughter's birthday. As I started this year's, I realized I never documented last year's Yo-Kai Watch Scavenger Hunt!

The Set Up

My girlfriend's sister is an amazing cake artist, so I know what I wanted to do – a Yo-kai hunt that would unlock a legendary Yo-kai (i.e. her cake). I had recently invested in a new craft printer and I was excited to use it!

I bought a "mystery kit" and some red-film decoders. I dressed the decoders up to look like the Yo-kai Watch and made a bunch of kids codes and hid them behind the red/yellow/blue noise that red-film sees through. I even made special Photoshop brushes for each Yo-kai type, so the noise was made up of the different Yo-kai Watch symbols.

It was difficult to get the printing just right so the red film worked well. It would often look totally see through on screen but then impossible to see though when printed or vice-versa. It took quite a bit of trial and error to get it just right.

I used the ring decoders from the kit to make a few puzzles and made a few others myself. Using classic kids ciphers like skip-letter code, morse code, grids, and the "tilted letters" puzzle, I had quite a few codes.

The Final Hunt

Hidden through out the house were little bags with the following:

  • Red-filmed version of the Yo-kai (looks easy to see here, but in print is harder to discern)
  • A red-filmed code for the next location
  • Code-breaking tools as needed

After the Yo-kai was correctly identified, I handed over a Medallion version of each Yo-kai (with a sticky back) for entry into the Legendary Medallium. Once the Medallion was filled, the Legendary Yo-kai would appear!

STEP 1

The hunt started with some Yo-kai coloring pages and sets of water colors I had set out for the kids. I had written a single letter on a few of the coloring pages in white crayon. As the kids competed their pages, a code was revealed. They quickly worked together to sort out the first clue – CLEAN.

STEP 2

Washogun is hiding under the kitchen counter in the cleaning supplies!

Along with his medallion, was 2-part red-film code (there were lots of kids and I wanted to divide up the work) and a cipher disk.
When decoded –
I LIKE TO BE ALONE
AND PARTY AT HOME.

Step 3

Hidabat was in my daughter's closet! His medallion was accompanied by a red-filmed grid code.

When decoded:
ZREE IN A TREE (this is a bit of an inside joke about Yotsuba)

STEP 4

To the back yard! Cadin was hiding in a tree!

With his medallion obtained, another code needed to be solved. This was a simple "skip every other letter" code which revealed –
LET'S STAY UP LATE AND PLAY VIDEO GAMES

STEP 5

Hidden among the video game systems was Wydeawake! Such a bad influence.

His medallion was accompanied by a book cipher. My daughter was obsessed with the number 42, so The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy was the book she needed for the code –
ME WHERE YOU PEE

STEP 6

Toiletta was hiding, well, by the toilet.

She was accompanied by number/alphabet code – 
YOU MAKE ME TREATS WHEN YOU SLEEP

STEP 7

Baku was hiding under my daughter's pillow ready to snack on some dreams!

Along with a morse code puzzle –
ALWAYS HUNGRY

STEP 8

Hungramps was hiding the pantry!

Along with the long letter code – 
ME ME ON THE WALL

STEP 9

Mirapo was hiding on our big mirror!

And now, the final code – a mirror text code –
Imaginary !Incendiary! Flip flip, squiggle boom, slim slam, LEGENDARY!
Presenting! Jibanyan!

And with her Legendary Medallium filled, out came the cake!

12Mar/130

When to use randomness

There is a good deal of debate on the value to randomness in game design. Many designers have a snooty idea that randomness is a crutch. Other designers, especially board game designers, will tell you randomness is a key component of a successful, long lasting design.

It's easy to see randomness everywhere in games. Most board games rely on dice to generate random behaviors. Heck, it's hard to think of a board game that doesn't use dice. Video games' grandaddy, D&D, even made up all kind of new dice to create even more tables of randomness.

Clearly, randomness works. It's sometimes good and sometimes bad, but why?

I believe that the need of randomness is inversely proportional to the complexity of a system. If the system being simulated is complex enough in itself, it does not need randomness. If the system is not that complex, or perhaps more importantly, if the players inputs to that system are not widely varied, randomness is not only a good idea, but required.

You can take a measure of your game for what I call "situational randomness." Are there enough inputs and systems in your game that create a hugely wide variety of situations? Will a player's interactions with these systems have plenty (but not too many) opportunities to create magic moments where all the game elements align just right to create a moment worthy of telling their friends about? And will their interactions with these systems be somewhat unpredictable?

Lots look at some examples. Imagine you have a simple "apple drop" style games. Apples drop, the player catches them. Maybe you do something clever like color the apples and if you catch so many of the same color in a row you get a bonus. In this scenario, the system is not very complex. More importantly, the player has literally no input into the system, just reaction. This game is going to create the opportunity for magic moments (say catching the same color of an apple 5x in a row) through randomness. There really is no other options.

Now imagine another game, lets call it apple battle. It's a dual sticker shooter where apples attack you from all sides. Your bullets will continue through targets like a laser. If you can shoot 5 red apples in one shot, you get a huge bonus. Here the player has more say on their opportunities. They can move around attacking the apples from many different angles. The apple generation is still random. What could we do to remove the arbitrary randomness?

What if the apples, instead of just disappearing when shot, moved back and exploded with physics, affecting other apples around it, bouncing them around all physics-like? Now this is something the player could interact with many times, and get the different outcomes. You could make the generation of the apples the same patterns, and the outcome of interaction would be different nearly every time. When something really special happened, the player would feel accomplishment. Under this scenario, randomness is probably not needed at all.

Now imagine exploding apple drop was multiplayer. Now you have an unpredictable system with multiple inputs. Now, randomness could be flat out bad. Randomness could greatly benefit one player and punish another. If players have influence over the randomness through, controlling stats that random rolls use, that works.

Board games simply cannot create widely unpredictable systems like this. They need randomness to create the feeling of an unpredictable system. However, video games can easily create simulations of complexity without ever needing random dice rolls.

Situational randomness is relying on players making the right choice, at the right time, in the right situations, perhaps with the right amount of resources, to make magic moments happen. In your game, can players predict the chaos enough, and react quickly and correctly to influence the system as they wish?

Randomness certainly has a place, but recognize when your game does not need it.

1Aug/124

Cutting Scope – part of the design process

At some point in time you are going to have to cut the scope of your game. You are going to run into a resource issue be it time, money or people, or perhaps a certain feature took 10x longer to implement than planned. It's going to happen.

When scope cuts come, they feel like a punishment. "Everyone didn't work fast enough so we have to loose features!" But the reality is that people have a very, very hard time accurately estimating time to complete a task. This isn't saying "people in the games industry" can't plan well, poor time estimation is a inherent human flaw. And most people in they games industry are human. So from the very beginning of a project, you are going to have incorrect time estimates.

Step 1 - Scope Cut

The very first step in a design process should be to cut scope. You should trim away anything not truly needed for the game to be complete. When I say complete, I mean that the game covers all the core dynamics and compulsions truly needed for the game to succeed. For example, if your game is a dungeon diving game, you need loot to drive the replay compulsion. You cannot cut loot. But could you cut the feature that loot changes your player's appearance? Yes, you could. Or could you simplify "left-earring slot, right-earring slot, eye slot, nostril slot and head slot" to just "head slot"? Yes, you could.

Find the most basic set of features that completes your game. Why is this so important? Because these features CANNOT be cut. You need to define the set of features that if one of them gets cut, the game does not work. It becomes another game entirely and has to be redesigned.

A complete game design is like a recipe for cake. It will not be cake without all the ingredients. Adding more sugar and butter might make it tastier (but not good for you!) but removing sugar would make it something else. Biscuits, I guess.

Creep Happens = Cuts Happens

As a project progresses, new ideas and features get added to the game. At the time, a single item seems like a small addition, but multiple people making small additions over a few months adds up. Occasionally you should go back through your design and trim features that the game could live without. You will often find features that contradict or duplicate compulsions or dynamics you want to create. This way scope cuts don't feel like a punishment, but just a part of process.

Nearly every time our team cuts scope, we come out with a better product. It's more focused and streamlined and we create more time to polish and refine the existing features. The only time cutting scope is "bad" is when it cuts into the features of what is a complete game.

 

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18Jul/111

Balancing Project Exonaut

Recently we put our our first balance patch for Project Exonaut. Here is an overview of the process, data and how I reached the decisions of what to change.

Assumptions

I wanted to write down some assumptions before I dove into the data to see if my instincts would be correct about where improvements were needed. I have played more Atlas Brigade exosuits, so if my assumptions were close to the data, I figured that would be a good indication for Banzai Squadron too. Here were my assumptions going in:

  • Rath was underpowered (too low damage)
  • Jake was underpowered  (too low ammo)
  • Phantom would far and away be the best base exosuit
  • Ultimate Cannonbolt was WAY overpowered (all Bulldog-focused exosuits would be)

The Data - Character Exosuits

The data held true to my expectations but there were certainly some surprises in there too. Here are the Exosuits sorted by hacks/per play session.

Exosuits sorted by hacks/per play

You can see the top Exosuits are high-level Atlas exosuits. I mostly attribute this to dedicated high-level Atlas players.

I knew the Bulldog pistol exosuits would be high. In designing the exosuits initially, I thought Bulldog mod exosuits would underpowered due to having a period of time before they could access their most powerful weapon. As a result I made their stats a bit higher than standard exosuits. This was a mistake and I knew it almost immediately after the game launched. Bobo was nerfed long before this path but he still remains a high performing exosuit.

I was right about Jake and Rath. They were 2 of the lowest performing exosuits. I really didn't like that the exosuits for our best shows (Adventure Time & regular Show) were some of the lowest performing exosuits. I knew I needed to buff them up. Basically any exosuit that had less than 12 hack per play got buffed.

The average hack per play across all Banzai exosuits was 13.21. The average across all Atlas exosuits was 15.01.

 

The Data - Base Exosuits

The Base exosuits performed lower, as expected due to guest players, but they were nice and even. Surprisingly, the medium Banzai exosuit was the best performing, albiet by a small margin. My prediction of the Phantom was incorrect, though it came in second.

 

The Data - Weapons

This number was a bit difficult to calculate. I took the hacks for exosuits by their weapon mod and used that to calculate the total number of hacks per capita of a weapon. Certainly not 100% accurate but it's the best I could get with the data.

The weapons seems nicely balanced. The Marksman rifle being the lowest was expected as it is more of a high-skill weapon. It's effectiveness in the right hands is displayed by the win percentage of Marksman mod exosuits like Princess Bubblebum and Ultimate Swampfire though.

The Changes

You can read about all the changes made in my previous posts.

23May/111

Project Exonaut – Faction Stats update

Updated this week, faction stats are now a measurement of weekly performance. This means faction stats will remain a bit closer, making competition more fierce!

Other changes:

  • Bobo Regen and Jetpack decreased from 4 to 3
  • Gwen's damage increased slightly

Congratulations to Banzai Squadron for being so dominant! Now is your chance to catch up Atlas Brigade!

2May/110

How to Properly Imbalance Your Game

Balancing Act

Over the past couple of years I have been working on character-based competitive games. These are the kind of games where the word "balance" is repeated ad nauseam.  As a (somewhat) competitive fighting game player myself, I have strived tirelessly to make our games as balanced as possible.  I have created complex tables to value character abilities, poured over win/loss data, and charted every balance change I have made and the corresponding results.  I have seen the delicate balance these games have, the slightest adjustment can take a character from best to worst. A little nudge back the other way take the worst character to incredibly overpowered.

It's been said that true balance in these types of games should be a designer's goal, even though it's impossible to accomplish. However, after working on these games, and watching the players and communities, I have come to the conclusion that not only is perfect balance impossible, a perfectly balanced game is not as good as a somewhat imbalanced game.

Emotionally Imbalanced

There are more factors at play in competitive games than just numbers, there are emotional factors as well. An imbalanced game benefits from this. When a game is imbalanced, it creates stories. There are villains (the overpowered) and underdogs (the underpowered) and all manner of journeymen in between. People love to see underdogs win and champions fall.

Perhaps you have seen this Street Fighter video of Ken defeating Chun-li. There is a lot of factors behind this video, the players, the pressure of the tournament, the technical skill of the feat but there is also the emotional factor for players of the game:  Chun-li is overpowered. Granted, Ken is top-level character as well, but seeing Chun-li lose feels good. Now imagine that video was the most powerful character defeating the least powerful character. The emotion would go the other direction entirely.

Imagine a game that was truly balanced, there would not be the strong stories of pulling out a win when disadvantaged. Players would not be able to shrug off losses against overpowered characters, thereby retaining their sense of self-worth. Much of the underlying emotional responses to these types of games would be lost. Players claim to desire a perfectly balanced game but this mythical game would remove a great deal of what they love about character-based competitive games.

Goals

Eschewing the concept of a perfectly balanced game is rather freeing for a designer. Since we are now ignoring the concept of a perfectly balanced game, what are our design goals?

  • A range of balance, not a perfect balance. Set an acceptable range.
  • Be aware of imbalance and design for it. Knowingly create your villains and underdogs.

Warning Signs

This goal of imbalance can go too far. What are the warning signs that our balance is out of hand?

  • Players are not choosing a variety of characters.
  • Players default to a certain character after losing

Balancing Along the Way

You are going to be making tweaks as you go. What should inform your design decisions?

  • Are the characters fulling the role you meant them to fill such as run away, hit & run, rushdown, etc.?
  • Is a character far outside of your balance range?
  • Does a character come down to repeating one action over and over?

An Example

Our fighting game, TKO, is a relatively simple game and therefore much easier to balance than most fighters. However, there were some challenges. Let's take a look at the character wins over our three releases. (The percentages are wins per play but are lower than 50% due to dropped players)

TKO win chart

You can see on the red-square line we had a character (Swampfire) far out of the acceptable range. It turned out he had a bug and one of his moves was much more powerful than intended. Fixing this bug brought him down to an acceptable range but kept him at the top of the rankings.

The blue-square line (Chef) & the purple-X line (Munya) characters shared a bug that we didn't find until Release 2. They dropped slightly but stayed well in the acceptable range.

The blue-diamond line (Big Chill) was a character that had a very abusable move that players just repeated over and over. While he was not as overpowered as Swampfire, playing against him was frustrating for players and a detriment to the game. Fixing this abusable move dropped him significantly in the ratings, to the very bottom. He even received some significant buffs by release 3 but players still tried to win by abusing this now non-working strategy. I haven't run the numbers lately but I wonder if these players have learned their lesson and Big Chill's win percentage has improved? Or maybe I made him too underpowered and he could not recover?

More to Come

Our new game Project Exonaut has the same character-based flavor of TKO and  am keeping up with balance all the time. I will be posting my finding here along with my predictions of balance and the results.

Conclusion

I am in no way condoning ignoring balance entirely but designers should be aware of the emotional factors a somewhat imbalanced game creates and how valuable those factors are. As long as your players choose their place in the balance and you game continues to display variety of players, embrace the imbalances and enjoy the endless debates of which character is the best.

26Apr/118

Project Exonaut launches!

Project Exonaut

CN Games Studio's newest game, Project Exonaut, has launched!

This is the biggest game our studio has ever built. This is our first 3D game as well, though the gameplay is in 2D. If you played our previous shooter, Ben 10 Bounty Hunters, you may recognize the core gameplay but Exonaut is amped up in every way from our previous title.

Features

  • Instant-action, fast-paced, multiplayer shooter
  • Players pilot exosuits, high-tech armored suits that channel the abilities of Cartoon Network's greatest heroes.
  • No login or registration required to play
  • Register to earn XP, level up and purchase new exosuits of your favorite CN characters
  • 5 maps
  • 32 exosuits
  • 100% free!

Instant Multiplayer

One of our main directives was "multiplayer as easy as a Flash game" so we streamlined the multiplayer experience to be as fast and easy as possible. We don't require registration and you can be in a game in one click.

Character-based Shooter

Unlike most shooters, in Exonaut your character selection changes your base stats (armor, regen, speed, jetpack and tech) and with what weapon you are best. You need to know your exosuit's strengths and weaknesses and how these play against other exosuits.

Balance Features

We changed up some of the shooter norms to balance the game across our wide demographic.

  • No respawn points - if you are "hacked" (killed) you drop at that point for a short time and then you respawn at that same location with a bit on invincibility. This limits spawn camping and greifing by forcing winning Exonauts to divide their attention among the entire population of players.
  • Limited ammo - there are no ammo refills but players always have a pistol when they run out of ammo. This means dominant players will be nerfed a bit after a strong streak of play.

Player Investment

We wanted to give players reasons to come back and play over and over so we made many exosuits players can earn. We also have a faction vs. faction meta game where player's wins affect the overall performance of their faction.

Overall Site Strategy

This is part of a larger site strategy for CN. We have our MMO, FusionFall, our one-on-one fighter TKO and now a 8-player competitive shooter.

We are going to continue to build on Exonaut, improving and adding new features through the year.

12Oct/102

TKO – 4 new characters!

TKO Update

Last week there was a huge update for TKO. To support the Ben 10 10/10/10 promotion, we made 4 Ben 10 Ultimate Aliens (Rath, Armadrillo, Ultimate Echo Echo, Ultimate Big Chill) and unlocked Ultimate Humungousaur, who previously required a player to be logged in a have a certain number of wins to play.

Restructure

TKO has been more successful than we ever hoped, so in addition to new characters, the entire structure of the game was changed to more easily allow for updates. Originally, TKO was supposed to have 9 characters, so we just put all the character data in the main file. As we added more characters to TKO, we saw more and more people fall off during the initial game download. However, now TKO has over 20 characters, way too many for a single file.

Our ninja engineer (ninjaneer?) completely re-factored the game, moving all assets outside of the main game file. This allows for all the character data to be loaded as individual files. It also lets designers and artists to update characters without having to recompile the game.

The art pipeline was completely overhauled. Our 3D artists worked magic to convert files from Blender to 3DS Max. This allowed up to make some nice, new animations for the new characters, like Ultimate Big Chill's fireball. This conversion will allow us to produce characters much faster in the future.

Building Characters

In building the new characters, we had very, very little time. As a result, instead of making all new special moves, we mixed and matched special moves from previous characters. This was an efficient way to build new characters and ended up creating very different play styles.

Balance

I collect data on character selections, wins, etc. and make balance tweaks based on these numbers. In a previous build, I nerfed Big Chill a bit because he was far and away the most dominant character. I increased the recovery on his Ice Dash (which was was too safe) and decreased the damage on all his freezing attacks. This resulted in Big Chill going from a break away first to dead last in win percentage. Numbers like this can be tricky to evaluate. Were players still attempting to spam his Ice Dash which is no longer safe? Or did these change really really make him a much worse character? I decided to go back half-way and increase the damage on his freezing attacks. I will have to keep an eye on him for next build. I also increased the hit area for Chowder's Kimchi attack, since his wins were pretty low.

Success

TKO saw a 5x increase in traffic last week, so obviously, the new content was a hit. At last count, there has been over 37 million TKO matches. We will continue to make TKO better with new features, balance tweaks and content. We are also building some exciting promotions and events around TKO so stay tuned for more robot fighting action.

16Sep/100

Game design and human evolution

Evolution has provided life on Earth with advantageous behaviors. Sometimes these behaviors that are beneficial in most situations can lead to certain death in others. For example, earthworms sense vibrations in the soil around them and quickly head towards this surface. This allows them to evade their most deadly predators, moles. However, when it rains earthworms cannot distinguish vibrations caused by raindrops and vibrations caused by moles, so they dig for the surface en masse and get squished by schoolchilden's galoshes.

Game designers are like the rain. A game designer must recognize and exploit leverage behaviors humans are hard-wired to perform. I believe the most effective game design blocks can be tied to these behaviors. A careful study of these behaviors could lead to a greater understanding of what is "fun," the difference between game styles for men & women and maybe even reveal a whole new category of game design we are overlooking.

(If this has already been covered somewhere I would love to read a in-depth study of game design as it relates to early human survival behaviors. I Googled and couldn't really find anything. I am no expert on the subject, this is just my thoughts about the subject formed in the shower and in the car.)

Accuracy

Accuracy has to best most prevalent human behavior necessary for survival. During the hunt, if you couldn't hit a mammoth with a spear you were going to starve to death. In our polite society accuracy was transformed into throwing balls into hoops. Games give us the ability to practice our accuracy against anyone and anything.

Competition

Remember that mammoth? If you got to it before the other guy, he starved to death instead of you. Now you guys can just shoot each other on Xbox Live.

Exploration

Exploring your surrounding led to shelter, food and new hunting grounds, good places to find firewood, resources for tools and all the things needed for survival.

Resource management

All those goodies you have killed or found need to be managed during the times you cannot kill or find anything.

Performing mundane, repetitive tasks for delayed gratification

HAHA! This was the whole point! Why grinding works as a game design tool. Building complex items, such as a tool or even a house, is not rewarding from day-to-day. You are consuming materials and you don't see results for a long time but all the early humans had the trait to stick it out through repetitive tasks at the end came out ahead. As a result, grinding is powerful tool to hook players. I often equate people's complains about grinding to getting married and having kids, everyone complains about it, yet no one will stop doing it.

I am sure there are other hard-wired behaviors game designers can leverage and though you can leverage these behaviors for game design, they are not equal. No one ever complains about too many headshots in a FPS. People complain about grinding constantly yet they cannot stop doing it.

Maybe those earthworms are complaining about the rain?